LOS ANGELES – Have your agents fired.
This was the instruction given by the Writers Guild of America to its 13,000 members Friday, after talks between Hollywood writers and their agents were broken hours before the midnight deadline.
The sudden end of the negotiations changed the way that had been in place for over forty years.
The struggle had been preparing for a year. The Writers Guild of America branches in Los Angeles and New York accused agents of getting rich at the expense of their customers and asked them to accept a new code of conduct.
If the agents thought that the threat of the film and television writers to break the bond that united them was only a negotiating ploy, they learned that it was a sincere attitude when the talks were held. finished Friday afternoon. The Talented Agents Association, the group representing the major agencies, has offered concessions in recent days, but their efforts have not been enough to keep both parties at the table.
In an explosion of email sent to its members at the end of the failed talks, the Writers Guild of America said, "There is no regulation."
"We know that together we will enter unknown waters," wrote the board of directors of the two affiliated unions. "A life that deviates from the current system can be disoriented to varying degrees. But it has become clear that a big change is needed. "
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The unions asked members to sign a standard letter allowing them to fire their agents individually. "The Guild will send all the letters en masse to the appropriate agencies in a few days," said the unions.
The Association of Talented Agents said in a statement released at the end of the negotiations that the proposed mass dismissal "will hurt all artists and will be a particularly painful blow to mid-level and emerging writers".
The statement continued as follows: "The W.G.A. leaders said today that the road to compromise does not exist. The agencies have committed to reaching an agreement with the GWA, but despite all our efforts, today's result was motivated by the Guild's predetermined chaos. "
The writers and television agents were working under a franchise agreement that came into force in 1976. That agreement was due to expire on Saturday at 12:01, when the Writers Guild of America technically removed the voting rights of all the agencies. not having signed the new code of conduct.
The four major agencies – William Morris Endeavor, the Creative Agency, United Talent Agency and ICM Partners – have firmly ignored writers' attempts to make profound changes to the long-standing structure.
The battle resulted in an unusual battle of work. The writers' unions, which went on strike in 2007 and nearly did it two years ago. Traditionally, they argue with their bosses in the big studios. This time, they directed their fury against the people who served as lawyers and friends.
During a programming boom often called Peak TV – 495 broadcasts were available in the US last year, thanks in part to the rise of streaming – TV writers claimed that their pay was stagnating or dwindling. The authors accuse the agencies of what they perceive as insufficient compensation, accusing them of corrupt business practices.
Two specific practices have plagued TV writers. One is the habit of agents for decades to pack a list of talents from their pool of customers for a given project. In return, the agencies give up the usual commission of 10% that they pay the customers and collect significant amounts, called expenses of conditioning, with the studios. The authors claim that these transactions allow agents to effectively set aside the money that should belong to them.
The scriptwriters' second complaint is about how three of the major agencies – William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists and United Talent – have gone into production with the creation of affiliates producing and owning content. According to the editors, this evolution may mean that the agents are sitting in front of executive executives who are essentially their colleagues in what the unions call a conflict of interest.
The agencies have described the authors' claims as ridiculous, claiming that their services are more needed than ever in a changing media environment in which Netflix, Amazon and Apple are on the rise.
The drafters insisted that the agencies had to put an end to the practices they found reprehensible, which the code of conduct would do. Last month, 7,882 members of the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East voted in favor of the new code of conduct, and only 392 members voted against it.
The break between writers and their agents will bring disorder to Hollywood. The industry is approaching the so-called staffing season, when broadcasters gather their fall queues and hire writers to launch sitcoms and telecom telethinks. the police. Agents are the usual intermediaries of screenwriters and studios, playing an important role in matching screenwriters with appropriate screenwriters.
Union leaders recently told writers that they could apply for jobs through a web portal created by the Writers Guild of America or by giving their managers or their lawyers the power to enter into agreements on their behalf.
The officers warned the editors against allowing executives or lawyers to do this kind of work.
On Friday morning, Latham & Watkins, a law firm representing talented agents, sent a letter to the union claiming it was "illegal" in California and New York to encourage managers and lawyers to play the role. agents. The note also suggested that prosecutions could soon be started in both directions.
There were allusions to the impending stalemate on Thursday night after the Association of Talent Agents published its counterproposals to the authors. Some people in Hollywood have interpreted the unusual approach of the association of revealing what had happened during in camera negotiations as a sign that the two sides were not close to each other. ;a deal.
With their counterproposals on Thursday, the agencies hinted that they wanted to continue packaging and managing their own affiliated production programs, but were willing to make their practices more transparent.
For shows with packaging arrangements, the agencies said they would share "a percentage" of their profits with the writers. Specifically, the agents said that 80% of this share would be directed to authors who did not participate in the profits of the series. The remaining 20% would go towards initiatives to improve diversity in writers' rooms.
With respect to the production affiliation programs, the agents promised to be more transparent and meet the scriptwriters four times a year to determine if a program with the sister companies of these agencies was "beneficial". to writers ". the unions continued to believe that the authors were not doing well under the agreement, they would have the right to reopen the negotiations on the issue.
The writers' unions found the two offers unsatisfactory. David Goodman, West Branch President, stated that the revised packaging offer was "not a serious proposition" and that the production subsidiary's offer was "unacceptable".
Many viewers – studio executives and producers – have compared the writers' strategy to Brexit: inflexible, but where will it lead?
"We will not only stand together, we will defend each other, we will support one another," the unions said on Friday. "We can do it."